Tuesday, December 23, 2008
In the course of reading a veritable pile of recent books on a range of charismatic practices including house groups, prophesying and healing, this writer has noticed that many of the advocates of these things have been powerfully impressed by the work of Paul Yonggi Cho, pastor of the largest church in the world, the Full Gospel Central Church in Seoul, Korea. They simply cannot keep quiet about him. Even as one reads the books the size of the congregation goes up; it is growing that fast! If a book was published at the beginning of the 1980s the author tells us that the largest church in the world has 150,000 members and over 100 assistant pastors. The latest books speak of 500,000 members. The church claims 17,000 new members a month, and many Western evangelicals are so overawed by this information that they just cannot wait to start experimenting with Yonggi Cho methods.
American healer John Wimber is such a case. Before turning to charismatic healing he traveled round churches giving lectures on church growth. As he studied this subject he became increasingly depressed by the seeming ineffectiveness of Western evangelism by comparison with the phenomenal growth experienced by charismatic churches in Third World countries. He was particularly impressed by the claim that an estimated 70% of all church growth worldwide is achieved by charismatics. The extraordinary growth of Paul Yonggi Cho's church caught his attention, and he tells us so. Wimber realized that the growth of this church rested on its ministry of signs and wonders such as the casting out of demons and dramatic healings, and he concluded that Western Christians were experiencing blunted evangelism because they were afraid of living and ministering in such an atmosphere of spiritual power.
He tells us, "Through the reports of signs and wonders from Third World students and missionaries, and through a greater understanding of how Western materialism undermines Christians' acceptance of the supernatural, I had begun to open my heart to the Holy Spirit. I wondered, were signs and wonders and church growth like those experienced in Third World countries possible in the United States? I would have to become a pastor again to find out."
John Wimber's enthusiasm for Dr. Paul Yonggi Cho's work is expressed in the course notes of his Signs and Wonders and Church Growth seminars: "Full Gospel Central Church is growing fast because of an emphasis on healing. When Yonggi Cho prays for the sick in the Sunday service, many people are healed... After they are healed by God, they become Christians and good evangelists... this is the secret of church growth of FGCC."
While Paul Yonggi Cho certainly cannot be regarded as the father of the new healing extreme, the extraordinary expansion of his church has caused numerous impressionable pastors and church leaders to fall at his feet as dead. Because of the influence his "success" has had over so many, and also because his methods broadly typify those employed by other mega-churches in Latin America, it is obviously important to become familiar with these methods. Paul Cho's best-known book The Fourth Dimension reveals his theology, which marks a radical departure from historic Christianity.
Pastor Cho tells us how he learned to pray. When he began to pastor his church in Seoul he was very poor and living in one room. Then he wondered what he was doing trying to work without a bed, a desk and chair, or any means of transport, and he began to pray to God for these things to be supplied. He prayed very much for a desk, chair and bicycle, but after six months he was still lacking all three and became very discouraged.
He tells us:
"Then I sat down and began to cry. Suddenly I felt a serenity, a feeling of tranquility came into my soul. Whenever I have that kind of feeling, a sense of the presence of God, He always speaks: so I waited. Then that still, small voice welled up in my soul, and the Spirit said, 'My son, I heard your prayer a long time ago.'
"Right away I blurted out, 'Then, where are my desk, chair and bicycle?'
"The Spirit then said, 'Yes, that is the trouble with you and with all My children. They beg Me, demanding every kind of request, but they ask in such vague terms that I can't answer. Don't you know that there are dozens of desks, chairs and bicycles? But you've simply asked Me for a desk, chair and bicycle. You never ordered a specific desk, chair and bicycle.'
"That was the turning point in my life... "
Yonggi Cho tells us how he then began to specify the size of the desk (which was to be made of Philippine mahogany), and the kind of chair (one made with an iron frame, with rollers on the tips, so that when he sat on it he could push himself around "like a big shot"). He thought long and hard about the kind of bicycle he wanted before settling for the ideal type and praying, "Father, I want to have a bicycle made in the USA, with gears on the side...."
He then tells us how he prayed for his needs: "I ordered these things in such articulate terms that God could not make a mistake in delivering them. Then I felt faith flowing up... that night I slept like a baby."
Paul Cho says that the Lord never welcomes vague prayers. Taking the incident of the healing of blind Bartimaeus he seizes on the fact that Jesus asked this obviously blind man, "What do you want Me to do for you?" as a proof that God insists on our making very specific requests. Until Bartimaeus was specific, Jesus did not heal him. At first glimpse, this idea of highly specific praying may not seem to be the greatest error in the world, but Paul Cho goes on to teach that the believer gets these specific requests supplied by visualizing them and then bringing them into existence by faith!
It is vital to see this because here is the point at which charismatic development leaves Christianity and crosses into the territory of paganism. Ideas like this are the inspiration of the largest church in the world, imitated by so many Western charismatics. Note the following example given by Paul Yonggi Cho.
While fulfilling a preaching engagement in another church he was asked by the pastor if he would pray for a spinster over thirty years of age who longed to get married but had so far not found a prospective husband. Pastor Cho asked her how long she had been praying for a husband, and she replied that it had been more than ten years. He then said, "Why hasn't God answered your prayer for these more than ten years? What kind of husband have you been asking for?" She shrugged her shoulders and replied, "Well, that is up to God. God knows all."
Cho responded with these words: "That is your mistake. God never works by Himself, but only through you. God is the eternal source, but He only works through your requests. Do you really want me to pray for you?" Calling her to sit down with paper and pencil, he proceeded to ask a series of questions:
"If you write down the answers to my questions then I'll pray for you. Number one, now, you really want a husband, but what kind of husband do you want--Asian, Caucasian, or Black?"
"Okay, write it down. Number two: do you want your husband to be as tall as six feet, or as small as five feet?"
"Oh, I want to have a tall husband."
"Write that down. Number three: do you want your husband to be slim and nice looking, or just pleasantly plump?"
"I want to have him skinny."
"Write down skinny. Number four: what kind of hobby do you want your husband to have?"
"Okay, write down musical. Number five: what kind of job do you want your husband to have?"
"Close your eyes. Can you see your husband now?"
"Yes, I can see him clearly."
"Okay. Let's order him now. Until you see your husband clearly in your imagination you can't order, because God will never answer. You must see him clearly before you begin to pray."
Pastor Cho then laid hands on the young woman and prayed, saying, "O God, now she knows her husband. We order him in the name of Jesus Christ." He then instructed her to paste the specifications for a husband on a mirror at home, read them night and morning and praise God for the inevitable answer. He teaches the need for a vivid mental picture coupled with a burning desire and a firm conviction that the goal is already accomplished.
Dr. Cho calls this process: visualizing the goal, then incubating it into reality by strength of faith--or would it be will- power? He teaches that believers may order up wealth and success; anything they want as long as it is moral. The key to getting these things is the art of fantasying them, because God cannot bring them into being unless the individual incubates the image. Certainly, Dr. Cho "tidies up" his teaching by saying that people should first pray to God for what He wants them to have before fantasying and incubating these things into reality. But in most of his many examples (like that of the unmarried woman) he dispenses with the need to refer to God for guidance on the details.
Though he attempts to give some biblical justification for his ideas, he tells us that he obtained them in the first place because God communicated them directly to him.
This is his own explanation of how he arrived at his teaching on incubating prayer answers and healing diseases. He tells us that he was driven to finding an explanation of how Buddhist monks in Korea managed to perform better miracles than those which his own Pentecostalist churches could perform. It worried him greatly that many Koreans got healing through yoga meditation, and through attending meetings of the Soka Gakki, a Japanese Buddhist sect with twenty million members.
According to Cho, many deaf, dumb, and blind people had recovered their faculties through these religious groups.
Cho was very jealous of the success which these other religions had in attracting followers. He wrote: "While Christianity has been in Japan for more than a hundred years, with only half a percent of the population claiming to be Christians, Soka Gakki has millions of followers... Without seeing miracles, people cannot be satisfied that God is powerful. It is you [Christians] who are responsible to supply miracles for these people."
Other Korean Pentecostal pastors were also very troubled by these pagan healings because ordinary church members constantly assailed them for an explanation. So, an anxious Paul Yonggi Cho fasted and prayed, looking to God for an explanation. It is noteworthy that in his account of his quest for a solution he makes no mention of looking in the Bible. "Suddenly," he tells us, "a glorious revelation came to my heart... explanations as clear as a sunny day" [The Fourth Dimension, p. 37]. Dr. Cho claims that God spoke to him describing the material world as belonging to the third dimension. In the beginning this three-dimensional world was chaotic, being without form and void, but the Spirit of the Lord (Who is said to dwell in the fourth dimension) brooded over it, visualizing and incubating into existence a new order containing beauty, cleanliness, abundance and above all--life.
Then God told Dr. Cho that because all human beings are spiritual beings (as well as physical beings) they have the fourth dimension in their hearts, and by developing the art of concentrating visions and dreams in their imaginations, they can influence and change the third dimension (material things) just as the Holy Spirit did when He brooded over the primeval earth. According to Cho, God told him that Buddhist and yoga adherents worked "miracle" cures because they explored and developed their human four-dimensional power, imagining mental pictures of health and willing then into their bodies. God told him that all human beings had the power to exercise legitimate dominion over the material world through this fourth-dimensional activity.
Cho claims that the Holy Spirit said to him, "Look at the Soka Gakkai. They belong to Satan... and with the evil fourth dimension they carry out dominion over their bodies and circumstances." Then God told him that Christians should link their fourth-dimensional spiritual power to God the Creator to have even greater control over circumstances than the Soka Gakkai. He concluded: "Soka Gakkai has applied the law of the fourth dimension and has performed miracles; but in Christianity there is only talk about theology and faith!"
Dr. Cho says that when Paul spoke of the "inner man," he was actually referring to his fourth-dimensional power to visualize things and incubate them into life. (He does not explain why Paul fails to say one word about this himself, nor why Christendom has had to wait 2,000 years before this should be revealed through a personal revelation from God to Dr. Cho.) Paul Yonggi Cho's teaching is a system of mind over matter (or rather, imagination over matter).
He frankly admits that it is a "Christianized" version of precisely the same methods practiced by Buddhists, exponents of yoga, and the followers of other pagan, mystical and occult systems. The only difference is that their fourth-dimensional power receives co-operation from the devil, while that of Christians supposedly receives help from the Holy Spirit. He says that so long as we keep our minds from foolish and wrong ideas, we shall keep the canvas of our imagination clean for the Holy Spirit to paint on it the things we are to have. In other words, direct guidance from God will come right into our minds.
Once we receive this direct communication--which is literally God's will for what we may have and do--then we must activate it by the power of our fantasying and dreaming. Dr. Cho sums it up saying--"Your success or failure depends upon your fourth-dimensional thinking: visions and dreams. We see this principle in operation from the very beginning of Scripture."
Abraham is claimed as an example of this process. "How did a one-hundred-year-old man become the father of so many?" asks Paul Cho. "He used fourth-dimensional thinking. He was full of visions and dreams. He learned to incubate in faith... By looking out in every direction, he filled his imagination in a concrete way with God's promise. He was not told to close his eyes when God spoke to him. He was to look at something concrete and substantive... So God expects us also to be active in the incubation of our faith by visualizing the final results of His promise."
Dr. Cho makes the astonishing assertion that God showed this visualization and incubation technique to Jacob in order that he could get enrichment from his uncle, Laban. When Jacob caused the vigorous sheep to pass between the "speckled" rods of poplar, hazel and chestnut, he would stand staring at them, visualizing spotted and speckled offspring. By visualizing the desired objective, Jacob activated the Holy Spirit, Who--"punched the proper keys for the necessary genes" (Dr. Cho's words), so that Jacob's cattle began to give birth to spotted and speckled offspring.
Dr. Cho says that his massive church grew to its present size and continues to grow because he follows this principle of visualization. He first imagines his church growing to a certain figure, and he then visualizes all the faces and incubates the vision into reality. Similarly, when he seeks the expansion of his television ministry, he imagines it being aired throughout Korea, Japan, the United States, and Canada. He pins up maps of these countries in his office and he the develops a mental vision of the transmitters beaming the programs.
He informs us that Sarah, like Abraham, had to visualize he child into existence. Yonggi Cho notes that at first she laughed at the idea that God would make her a mother at the age of ninety, but soon, he asserts, she got down to visualizing the return of her youth. Where do we read in the Bible that she began to visualize the return of her youth? The answer is--nowhere, but as every other assertion of extreme charismatic writers like Paul Yonggi Cho, the most amazing things are "read into" the Scripture. Thoughts and actions are constantly attributed to biblical characters about which the sacred narrative says nothing.
Dr. Cho has his own version of events when he tells us that as Sarah dwelt upon the promise of God a physical change soon began to take place in her body, with the result that King Abimelech found the old woman so attractive that he tried to take her as his concubine. Cho concludes--"If a woman begins to think of herself as attractive, she can be. Not only will physical changes take place, but her self-image will change..."
Healing may be accomplished by precisely the same technique, and Pastor Cho tells the story of a man who was knocked down and terribly injured by a taxi while doing his Christmas shopping. When the pastor got the hospital, the man was unconscious and was not expected to survive the night. Believing that fourth-dimensional visualizing was vital to his recovery, Cho prayed that the man be given five minutes of consciousness. Immediately the man recovered consciousness and Cho began to speak to him, saying, "I know you are thinking... you are already envisioning death.
But God wants you to participate in the miracle that is going to take place. The reason you have regained you consciousness is that God wants to use your fourth-dimensional power and begin to paint a new portrait upon the canvas of your heart. I want you to start painting a new picture of yourself in your imagination. You are on the way home and no accident has taken place. You knock on the door and your lovely wife answers. She looks very pretty. On Christmas day she opens up her present and you feel so proud you have such good taste.
"The next morning you wake up and have a good breakfast with your family. In other words, you are erasing death from your mind and you're painting a picture of happiness... You leave the praying to me! I will pray in faith and you agree with me! I just ask your ability to dream and see your health and happiness!"
This was the way the man was taught to incubate the image of health. We have to learn, says Cho, to always visualize the final result and in that way we can incubate what we want God to do for us. He claims that the moment the injured man stopped asking if God was going to heal him, the bed began to shake and God performed a miracle.
Paul Yonggi Cho teaches that all Christians should aim to prosper in body, soul and spirit, and their success and failure in this is due entirely to their success or failure in visualizing. He writes that his church members have so proved these principles of success that there have been no bankruptcies in his church, and the membership has undertaken the largest and most expensive church-building program in all history.
However, one cannot always take Pastor Cho's claims very seriously, for elsewhere he writes of how his own bankruptcy was all but inevitable, and how he stood on the very verge of suicide through the near failure of his church-building project. In the end he was only saved by church members taking such sympathetic action that many sold their homes and most precious possessions to bail him out.
Needless to say, when we come to the Bible we cannot find any of these instructions or ideas. We look in vain for any advice about visualizing, incubating, imagining, or any other technique of sorcery or will-power designed to dominate God and to take away His sovereignty over the lives of His people. In the Bible we find that even an apostle like Paul is obliged to ask God in a humble, dependent way if he might be enabled to visit the people of a certain church--subject to the will of God.
The Apostle Paul, judged in the light of Paul Cho's books, was a dismal failure because he knew what it felt like to be abased, to endure hardship, and to encounter many, many difficulties. So often events did not turn out according to his wish or endeavor as a servant of Christ. Paul evidently made the mistake of neg ative thinking--accepting trials and tribulations. Overall he failed miserably in the use of his fourth-dimensional powers, never proving successful at fantasying or willing anything into existence.
To get God's guidance or blessing, Dr. Cho teaches that we must ask the Lord to reveal His will by putting a desire for the intended thing into our heart. Then God must be asked to give a sign to confirm that the "desire" is from Him. (This sign might amount to anything! A small coincidence will do.) Then, if we have peace about the desired thing we should "jump up and go... miracle after miracle will follow you... constantly train yourself to think in terms of miracles."
Absolute confidence in ideas which spring into the mind as "desires" is a characteristic of Dr. Cho. Faith, according to his teaching, is not merely trusting that God will do those things which He has promised to do in His Word. Faith is redefined as having absolute trust in desires which come subjectively into one's mind, for these ideas or desires are assumed to be direct communications from God, and we must therefore develop unshakable confidence in them. If we take these ideas and imagine and incubate them into reality, then we are promised "miracles," and these should be our lifelong experience.
Paul Yonggi Cho soon added another stage to the process of visualizing and incubating miracles--"the creative power of the spoken word." He says that he would often see on his "mind screen" a kind of television picture of growths is appearing, cripples throwing away their crutches, and so on. Then, he claims, God said to him: "You can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in your church... but nothing will happen--no soul will be saved, no broken home rejoined, until you speak the word. Don't just beg and beg for what you need. Give the word... "
Cho replied, "Lord, I'm sorry. I'll speak forth." Ever since that time whenever he has seen in his mind cripples healed or tumors disappearing, he has spoken out, saying, "Someone here is being healed of such and such," and he has named the disease. He claims that hundreds of people are healed every Sunday when he closes his eyes and calls out all the healings which he sees in his mind.
Interestingly, the vision or revelation which he claims led him to this technique is strikingly similar to that which is claimed (some years later) by John Wimber, an acknowledged admirer of Cho's ministry. Like all "healers," Dr. Cho is forced to acknowledge that not everyone is successfully healed by his word. He cannot claim the infallibility of the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles. He admits to many bothersome failures, but he claims that these are always due to lack of faith on the part of the sufferer.
Dr. Cho expresses his disappointment that many Western people are bypassing Christianity and looking in Oriental temples for miraculous powers which he and others are now making available in Christian churches! He says, "Evangelical Christians are increasingly understanding how to use their imaginations by learning how to speak the language of the Holy Spirit--visions and dreams."
With all this in view we have no problem in identifying the strands which make up Paul Cho's new "synthesis" religion. The Korean people have an ancient religion called Sinkyo, which sees the world as a "religious arena inhabited by spirits." Tragedies, troubles and illnesses can be cured by the Mudany, a woman priest who can interact with the spirits. She is the local "medical priest," combining the roles of a medium and prophetess. She receives clairvoyant insights, goes into trances, casts out devils and cures diseases.
Korea has also for centuries been heavily influenced by Buddhism, particularly the form already mentioned which places great stress on healing and divining. It is taught that people do not need to be in bondage to their circumstances; they can, by right attitudes, by concentration, and by uniting with the eternal realm, get above suffering and sickness. The religious disposition of the Koreans is both harnessed and exploited by the "Christianity" of Paul Yonggi Cho in his blatant mix of sorcery, mind-over-matter, self-interest, Sinkyo, Japanese Buddhism and Christianity. But to mix pagan ideas and practices with the pure religion of Christ is condemned in Scripture as the heinous sin of idolatry. It is a marriage of Christianity and the occult, and is forbidden by God -- "What communion hath light with darkness? And--What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?"
What has built the largest church in the world?
The answer is, an idolatrous mixture of biblical teaching and pagan mind- techniques.God is deprived of His sovereignty in the believer's affairs, and the authority of Scripture is replaced by the authority of supposedly direct messages from God and the product of the imagination.
This is the kind of church which has moved hordes of impressionable Christian teachers the world over to jump on to the healing-prophesying bandwagon. We need to take very great care in these days.
Look at the books which charismatics and neo-evangelicals are writing today. They are commending these things. Look at healing advocates like John Wimber. They are deeply impressed by these things. These are the teachings which have captured their minds! This is the brand of Third World Christianity they are so anxious to emulate.
What are we to say to these things?
Remember the Judaizers!
By Peter Masters